Adam Burton Photography

Talland Bay, Cornwall


Sandwiched between the picturesque harbour towns of Polperro and Looe on Cornwall's south east coast, Talland Bay is an altogether different experience.  While both Polperro and Looe are prime destinations for summer holiday makers, Talland Bay enjoys a far more peaceful existence.

This charming bay and village of the same name feature no more than a handful of houses connected to the outside world by several tiny country lanes, leaving a relatively unknown and unphotographed Cornish hideaway.

Maybe this seclusion was a contributing factor to Talland Bay's somewhat shady past.  In the 18th Century the beach here was a notorious landing spot for smuggled goods.  Boats, laden with spirits would silently approach the bay where they would be secretly unloaded in the dead of night and transported to nearby Polperro or Looe.  Smuggling was active all around the southwest in those times, but Talland Bay seems to have had an enduring appeal.  In 1979 the UK's then largest drugs smuggling gang were brought to an end when their boat was apprehended by Customs & Excise while unloading cannabis on the shores of Talland Bay.  In a subsequent search one and a half tonnes of cannabis were found in a secret underground store in the beach cafe!

It was with all this information fresh in my mind when I meandered down the little lanes towards Talland Bay in the pre-dawn darkness.  My first challenge soon appeared when I encountered a barrier in front of the beach car park.  The next few minutes involved much cursing as I struggled to reverse my camper van back up the narrow winding lane, all the time worrying that my engine would alert the suspicions of the locals.  After all, it was still the dead the night, 4.30am, and that infamous beach cafe was only a stones throw away!!

After parking up on the road, I quickly changed into my wellies, grabbed my gear and made for the beach.  The location was entirely new to me; I had been searching for a beach in this vicinity to shoot for my South West Coast Path book, and Talland Bay seemed perfect.  Two little curved beaches, with cliffs, rocky ledges and a pillar of rock thrown in for good measure. 

At this time of year I knew that the sun would be rising over the land to the north east, so I headed to the west side of the bay to search for a composition that would enable me to shoot in the direction of the dawn glow.  After some rock-hopping I found some sandy coloured rock ledges which pointed over towards the far side of the bay.  The ledges were separated by calm water which would be ideal to keep my composition simple and uncluttered.  The only problem was the tide was coming in fairly quickly and the ledges would shortly be turning into islands before sinking beneath the water entirely!

Recognising the urgency I set up my gear as quickly as possible, favouring a 16-35mm wide angle lens to accentuate the foreground on offer.  I fitted a polariser onto my Lee filter holder to ensure any reflections on the water would be minimised, thereby enabling the sensor to record the gorgeous turquoise coloured water.  With the camera now on its tripod I concentrated on my composition; due to the rising tide the picture I had in mind was no longer an option as the rocks were too submerged.  To redress this issue I moved backwards along the ledge several metres where the rocks were higher and soon set up a similar composition.

The next issue would be the sky.  As sunrise was approaching, a warm glow was emerging over the horizon, meaning I would need to use a strong ND Grad to stop the sky from overexposing.   This in itself would be fine, but it would have the side effect of darkening the far headland which was less than ideal.  I could choose to take two images, one exposed for the sky and one for the land and blend them together in Photoshop.  However that option has never appealed to me; I prefer to capture the image in the camera, and so decided that the dark cliff would be a compromise I would be prepared to live with.  I fitted a Lee 0.9 hard edge grad, and captured this scene before too much more of the ledge was consumed by the tide.

With the shot in the bag, I packed up my gear and retreated along the ledges back to the camper van.  After a quick cup of tea and a bowl of cereal I headed off down the lanes, gone before the villagers awoke and hopefully before any smuggling suspicions were arisen!


Hi adam, this charming place is very well traduced through your beautiful image. The choice of this long exposure beautifully enhanced the soft blue of the water !

by Philippe Albanel on 27th July 2012

Hi adam,

Congratulation for all of your pictures they’re very inspiratinal for me, they make me want to cross the channel ! And thank you for this perspectives part of your website.

I was wondering how you use your ND grad filters ? More precisely, how do you choose the best filter for a photograph ?

I used to meter the light with spot metering for both the foreground and the sky and then determine which filter is the best, but with my little experience I started to do it with the naked eyes. But sometimes I think I should more accurate because I really want to progress in landscape photography and I need to !


by Baillieux Thomas on 30th July 2012

Great shoot Adam,can you tell me what Polarizer you use.

by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02nd August 2012

Thanks Philippe, Baillieux and Tang for your comments.  To answer your questions I take a standard meter reading for the foreground and then the final view, then work out the difference before adding in an appropriate strength filter.  Up until now I have used a Lee 105mm Circular Polariser, but I have just purchased a Heliopan 105mm Circular Polariser to replace the Lee as it will allow me to use a wider angle without vignetting.


by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07th August 2012

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